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Startup Employees Rocking the Holiday Season

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There’s nothing worse than a busy season to test the mettle of a startup. Excessive orders, customer service wrinkles, products out of stock, you name it. And when something goes wrong the problem usually lies with…you guessed it, the people. When we help clients build cultures, we talk about the importance of hiring to culture–especially for startups where employees are often the face of the company.

Hiring to culture is not “can I have a beer with this guy?” It’s a defined selection process that tests whether a candidate will deliver in a way congruent to your company values. It’s employees that live the brand every day and act as an extension of the business no matter where they are.

Since I’m in the business of startups, it’s only fitting I patronize them too. And in checking off my own gift list this year, I decided to put a few service startups to the test. How would they fare when I ordered their goods, asked questions, and responded to problems that arose? And what startup employees are really singing their brand’s tune?

Best Practice #1: Sharing the Brand

Fornash is a startup that pivoted multiple times in the design industry from hand-painted glasses to design-your-own purses to their current successful jewelry and accessories line. Stephanie Fornash Kennedy, founder of the brand has bootstrapped her way to Oprah’s Favorite Things List. Not only is Stephanie always decked out in her own line, her social media team is constantly sharing ways to wear her items on Instagram.

e88eb1ea5ee411e3977412e829fefa95_8I had the chance to join Stephanie and a group of women last week for dinner, and she came with free baubles for all of us: she gave the Cosmopolitan Bracelet to each of us. Of course we promptly adorned them and took a photo and shared it across numerous social media channels. Brand goodwill starts with friends and family. Putting the product in the hands of friends and sharing the brand you’re proud of, makes those who know you proud of it too. You don’t need Kickstarter to remind you that startup success often begins with the people who have faith in you and are proud to share the story of someone they know. Now I’m off to fill stockings with more Fornash bangles.

  • Shop Fornash this holiday season: use code COSMO for 20% off of the Small Cosmopolitan Bracelets you see above.

Best Practice #2: Informed employees are the best employees.

I inherited a love for giving gifts from my mom. For me, it’s not about extravagance but about the unique finds that are perfect for one specific person on your gift list. As a citizen, I’ve always admired the Back to the Roots story to make food personal. As an entrepreneur, I appreciate their carefully curated product line. And as a consumer, I looked at the Amazon reviews before purchasing one of their Aqua Farms as a gift.

Unsure if some of the problems the reviews cited had been addressed, I conveniently asked Emily, a Back to the Roots employee who popped up in the live chat function on their site as I was shopping. What changes had they made to address the problems? She responded immediately in the chat window with the specific changes that had been made to the product pump, tray and construction using the exact terms I’d seen in the reviews. I was impressed and convinced. She topped it off with a coupon code and I was off to the checkout, one more gift uniquely checked off my list.

  • Shop Back to the Roots this holiday season: use code tech10 for 10% off your order.

Best Practice #3: Honest and prompt employees yield loyalty.

For a few months I indulged in an UmbaBox subscription, a monthly curation of handmade goods. I liked the monthly surprises, but I’m a planner. So I was excited when they recently launched Umba, where shoppers can browse and purchase high-quality, handmade goods at their leisure. I window shopped, placed my order, and then went to my spreadsheet to check off a few more gifts as purchased (hey, I said I’m a planner).

A few days later I got an email from their COO: “Our artisans handcraft each and every item specifically for you and from time to time they run into artistic snags that hinder orders…the artist behind…the item that you have selected…has hit production capacity at her current studio and will not be able to complete the plate before Christmas. Given that many customers are purchasing as gifts, we wanted to let you know that there will be a delay in the order while she completes the plates.  If the delay will cause a problem in your gifting we are happy to refund the order and offer a coupon code for a different item.”

The item was in fact a gift, so I replied and was promptly issued a refund. The rest of my order was shipped as planned. Honest, upfront, and understandable. That’s the way to handle a problem.

  • Shop Umba this holiday season: get $10 off any active UmbaBox subscription with the code HOHOHOBOX.

This holiday season, look to your employees for the brand win. And if you can’t, it’s time to add to your strategic priorities for 2014. Until then, I’m busy shopping.

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About the Author

Susan Strayer LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo. She helps startup and high-growth companies develop cultures, build employer brands, and create talent strategies to help scale and grow businesses. Follow her @SusanLaMotte.

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